Before the Civil War had come to a close, President Abraham Lincoln was attempting to develop a plan for reconstruction. He believed that, because the Confederate states had no legal grounds to have seceded from the Union, it would be a simple task to bring them back into the Union fold. Therefore, in 1863, he devised and presented his Ten Percent plan. It declared that a state in rebellion against the Union could be readmitted when 10 percent of its voters in the 1860 presidential election had taken an oath of allegiance to the Union and pledged to adhere to emancipation. Following this, each state would have to erect a new state government. Once these things had been accomplished, the state would then be considered purified (Bailey & Kennedy, 492).
Naturally, Lincoln’s plan caused great uproar in Congress. The Republican members feared that there would be a restoration of the planter aristocracy and slaveholding that had led to the war in the first place. To prevent this from happening, the Republicans pushed the Wade-Davis Bill through Congress in 1864. This bill was the Republican plan for reconstruction. It required that fifty percent of a state’s voters take the oath of allegiance, and demanded better protection measures concerning emancipation as the price for readmission into the Union (Bailey & Kennedy, 492).
However, Lincoln chose to veto the bill by refusing to sign it after Congress adjourned. This in turn angered the Republicans, who retaliated by refusing to seat delegates from Louisiana after they had reorganized their state government based on Lincoln’s plan. Thus, it is evident that the Wade-Davis Bill was a source of great strife. Furthermore, it revealed the deep differences between the president and Congress. Whereas Lincoln did not believe that the Southern states had legally seceded, Congress did and felt that they should be treated as conquered states, rather than be readmitted under tame conditions. Finally, it revealed differences within the Republican Party itself. It was beginning to splinter into two groups, with the majority being moderate and following the plan that Lincoln laid out, while the other was more radical, believing that the South should suffer more severely for its sins. But in the end, it would be Lincoln’s plan that President Andrew Johnson would implement once he took over the Presidency following Lincoln’s assassination (Bailey & Kennedy, 492-3).
During Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, great strides were made in the area of foreign policy. This was due to Roosevelt’s personality and personal beliefs concerning his duty as president. He believed that the president should be a leader, but should also be allowed the opportunity to make mistakes. Therefore, he made mistakes, but generally kept the course of government flowing (Bailey & Kennedy, 670-71).
During his terms of office, Roosevelt utilized his brand of politics by ensuring that American imperialism would expand beyond the borders of the U.S. His time in office would see the implementation of the Monroe Doctrine in regards to Latin America, as well as Russia and Japan. There was also the development of the Panama Canal, as well as difficulties concerning the Japanese in California
All these various issues, Roosevelt used his brash style and no-nonsense thinking to handle. However, in doing so, he planted the seeds for future animosity between several of these foreign countries and America. Despite that fact, the mere fact that he was able to progress so far with regard to foreign policy is a major accomplishment in and of itself. Therefore, it is right to say that his administration was a great success in that regard.
Social Darwinism is a term coined in the 19th century to describe the belief that, like animals and plants, humans compete in a struggle to survive. This struggle is often tempered by natural selection, which weeds out the weak while leaving behind the strong. Stemming from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, social Darwinism has several different strains. Some who adhere to it believe that government should not interfere with this human competition by way of trying to fix the economy, politics, or any other problems that often arise in society. Rather, a “laissez-faire political and economic system” is promoted (Encarta, Social Darwinism, 1).
In regard to the industrial boom that occurred following the Civil War, social Darwinism played a great role in determining how business and politics was handled. It was a period in which men could become fabulously wealthy overnight or through years of hard work, and they did so by any means necessary. It was also a period where politicians were notorious for seeking their own interests, almost to the detriment of the common man.
Everyone felt that only the strong were meant to survive. Therefore, if you were weak, you would be crushed. This attitude can be seen in the dealings of men such as Astor, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Morgan. These men, and others, did what they felt was fit, holding on to a vast amount of power, so much so that they could have put who they wanted in the White House had they chosen to do so.
The laissez faire attitude continues to exist in politics and business. However, it is a bit more tempered, due to laws such as the Sherman Antitrust Act and due to the efforts of men like Theodore Roosevelt, who felt that the benefits and rewards of America should be enjoyed by all, not just a select few.
During the late 1890s and early 1900s, America embarked on a path of imperialism that had not been seen since the early 1800s, when Napoleon was attempting to create a vast French empire. This push toward imperialism coincided vast changes occurring in the areas of industry, agriculture, and the social structure of the country.
Several factors played a role in this push. First, there was an increase in the exports of manufactured goods and agricultural products. This increase in turn led to a new sense of power within the country, which was thought to be able to blossom through overseas trade (Bailey & Kennedy, 641).
Second, the journalistic efforts of the time made life overseas seem like a grand adventure. This in turn led to a surge in overseas travel. Third, there was the desire for American religious missionaries to travel abroad, with the hope of converting people they considered savage. Thus, the need to explore and convert coincided with the need to exert the fact that Anglo-Saxon American society was superior to all others in the world (Bailey & Kennedy, 641-2).
Finally, the need to exert superiority also resulted in the various wars and diplomatic scrapes of the period. It is most likely during this time that America acquired the reputation of being the policeman of the world. The U.S. government inserted itself into various foreign situations, with two goals in mind: to assert their own strength and to gain more power on the world stage. These goals are still being used and implemented today (Bailey & Kennedy, 642-3).
It must be remembered that the concepts of social Darwinism and Manifest Destiny played a role in this expansion overseas. Americans felt that they were the best and the strongest. Therefore, it made perfect sense to following the philosophies previously mentioned to gain more power and control on the world stage. Without the development of either concept, it is very unlikely that the expansion that occurred would have taken place on the scale that it did (Encarta, Social Darwinism, 1).
On January 8, 1918, Woodrow Wilson delivered to Congress his famous Fourteen Points Address. America had been engulfed in World War I for the past four years, and this speech was meant to maintain and boost the spirits of the Allies, with the ultimate goal of there being American victory (Bailey & Kennedy, 724).
The fourteen points were Wilson’s policy concerning how to deal with the enemies following the end of the war. The first five were quite general in their scope. They dealt with aspects such as the abolishment of secret treaties, freedom of the seas, the removal of economic barriers, the reduction of the burden concerning armaments, and an adjustment concerning colonial claims. Each point appealed to the group of people it would affect the most (Bailey & Kennedy, 724).
Other points were also viewed as appealing, such as the point that allowed for the independence of oppressed minority groups. The final point, however, concerned the creation of the League of Nations, which would eventually be formed through the Treaty of Versailles. The goal was that the league would provide a collective security system for all the countries involved. Wilson hoped that this would allow for the political independence of all countries, both large and small (Bailey & Kennedy, 724).
However, while the points met with high praise in America, in other countries it did not meet with approval. Those leaders concerned with increasing the amount of territory they controlled, for example, were not thrilled with the points. Furthermore, Wilson was not entirely successful in seeing all fourteen points implemented. The various countries involved in the war all had changes of heart concerning various issues within the Treaty of Versailles that led them to change course. This in turn resulted in alliances breaking down, and countries choosing which aspects of the fourteen points to follow or ignore. Thus, while his motives were honorable, in the end, his plan was an overall failure (Bailey & Kennedy, 724-5).
1. Bailey, Thomas A. and Kennedy, David M. The American Pageant, Tenth
Edition. Massachusetts: D.C. Heath & Company, 1994.
2. “Social Darwinism,” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved. – Retrieved November 11, 2007
3. Bennett, William J. America: The Last Best Hope – From the Age of Discovery
To a World of War. Tennessee: Nelson Current, 2006